Bringing Your New Puppy Home in the Car

All medical claims reviewed by Dr Pippa Elliott. BVMS, MRCVS.

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our hero image for bringing your new puppy home in the car. Image with an excited new puppy with the sunset behind him.

First Time Car Travel with a New Puppy Dog

As events go, it doesn’t get much more exciting bringing a new puppy home for the first time. For both you and your new family member, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s important to get it right.

What’s so complicated about bringing your puppy to their new home?

For starters, the new dog needs to get off on the right paw and begin bonding with you. Then there are safety aspects to car travel such as how to keep your dog safe on the journey home. Also, what should you do if the puppy whines? How often do you need to take a comfort break? How should you prepare for the car ride home?

Pawsonal Preferences: Options for Bringing Puppy Home

Think of how a new baby travels home from the hospital. These days you’re expected to strap the newborn into a crash-tested travel seat that is appropriately attached to the vehicle’s seat belt system, and the airbag disabled if in the front seat. This is all about keeping the precious new life safe in the event of a crash.

A new puppy is no different from a newborn baby: Both are helpless, both are dependent on you, and both are a huge distraction to the driver. As a dog owner, when it comes to car safety the legal obligations are less onerous than for transporting children, but the dangers are similar.

In the case of an emergency stop, an unsecured puppy becomes a mobile missile with the potential to fly through the windscreen with devastating consequences. Ultimately, how you transport a new dog is up to you, but responsible owners make sure it is done in the safest possible way for all involved.

The options for bringing a new puppy home include:

  • A cuddle on a lap
  • A cardboard box
  • A cat carrier or dog carrier
  • A dog seat belt

Each option has advantages and disadvantages, let’s consider these in more detail

A Safe Journey Home

Firstly, let’s look at what NOT to do.

Do NOT let the puppy romp loose in the vehicle, most especially if you are driving on your own. Whilst they may sleep soundly on the front seat for part of the journey, if they wake up they can pose a huge distraction.

It only takes eyes-off the road for a few seconds for a collision to happen. Your pup might be flung through the windscreen and be badly injured. Then there’s the risk of the puppy jumping down and getting stuck under the brake pedal… so just don’t go there.

Begin Bonding

Where possible, have a friend or family member go with you to pick the puppy up. If you have children who are old enough to act calmly and responsibly, then they can be a big help. Plus, the puppy bonds to the people they encounter early on, so this is a great way to build future trust.

Backseat Driver

Many people, for understandable reasons, just want to cuddle the puppy on their lap. If this is your option, then sit in the back seat. Again, this is less of a distraction for the driver. If the passenger on cuddle duty is determined to sit in the front, then disabling the airbag is advisable. A deployed airbag may smooth the puppy…but of course, in the event of a crash, the pup then becomes the passenger’s airbag – hence the recommendation to sit on the backseat.

Wrap the puppy in a blanket, specifically one that smells of the mum, as this will give much-needed comfort and a sense of security at this time of change.

a cosy new puppy being brought home for the first time.

A Basic Box

For a tiny puppy, an old-fashioned cardboard box maybe all the new dog needs. Line it with newspaper or puppy pads (in case of accidents) and a blanket that smells of the mother. Then use the car seatbelt to strap the box securely in place. However, cardboard boxes do have a habit of getting soggy if puppy pees or poops, so a more durable alternative is a pet carrier.

Dog Carriers

A dog or cat carrier is a great solution for safe travel. These confine the puppy in a cosy den-like space to help them snooze the journey away. They also offer some protection in the event of a crash and prevent the pup from becoming a missile. Secure the carrier onto a seat with the seatbelt. Again, the back seat is the best option, but if you want your puppy to ride in the passenger seat, then disable the airbag.

For a long journey, most dog carriers come equipped with water bowls, so the pup can have a drink should they be thirsty. If a dog crate or carrier sounds a good idea to you, then check out our top 6 recommendations.

Seat Belts

For the larger puppy where a dog carrier might be a squeeze for the four-legger, then consider a safety harness. These are dog harnesses that are strong enough to withstand the force of a crash and can easily connect into the car’s safety restraint system. In the event of a crash, keep the new dog secure and spreads the force of the impact over their body, minimizing the risk of injury.

The main disadvantage to this is that the puppy almost certainly won’t be used to wearing a harness, and may, therefore, be confused or distressed by wearing it for the first time. However, a crash-tested safety harness is good choice and you can check out our recommendations in this review of the best safety devices for dogs.

Car Sickness and the New Puppy

Another problem faced by new owners on that first day is travel sickness. Even adult dogs can suffer from nausea and motion sickness, so it’s best to be prepared. Plan ahead and leave plenty of time for the journey. Essentials to pack include puppy pads, paper towels, and plastic bags. This allows for stress-free clean-ups on the move.

Simple things like keeping the car a comfortable temperature, and avoiding it being too hot or too cold can help. Perhaps crack a window open slightly to allow fresh air in. Signs a dog is feeling travel sick include drooling and hanging their head. If the dog whines and is restless, but they don’t appear nauseous, then they may need a comfort break. As a rule, if the puppy is asleep then they can hold their bladder for one hour for every month of age, plus one hour (so an 8-week old pup can hold on for 3 hours). However, if the puppy is awake, they may not be able to hold on, so plan for puddles so there’s no drama when the inevitable happens.

So there you have it. Bring your new puppy home in style, but keep them safe! How you do it is ultimately your choice, but to ensure you arrive safe and sound, spare a thought for what’s going to work best for you and the new puppy.

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